Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

May, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Top Posts For April

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    To be honest I am writing this a little early because I am on vacation today. So it is possible that one of the posts from this week should be in this list but isn’t.  But I think it is safe to say that some of the early posts in April were the big conversation pieces of the month.

    The post with the most comments was the one about the College Board deciding to discontinue one of the two Advanced Placement Computer Science exams. This is a huge issue in the high school (AP CS) world and it is still being talked about by teachers.

    The post where I asked if there was a future for high school computer science also had a lot of comments and received a huge amount of traffic. Not surprisingly my audience believes that there should be a future but there is not a single view of what that future should be or what it should include.

    Popfly was one of the themes of my month in April. I had three posts where it came up. First was my trip to Bentley College to sit in on an IT 101 class where Popfly is one of the Web 2.0 tools being used. Then there was the hands on lab I posted that steps one though creating a simple (hopefully fun) mashup. And thirdly my trip report from Summit NJ where I used the lab.

    BTW I had a great Twitter experience with that hands on lab. Once I finished the first draft of the exercise I Twitter that I had it and needed someone to sanity check it for me. With in a short period of time three teachers had Twittered back, received a copy via email and replied with suggestions for improvement. Thanks to Mari Hobkirk, Kathleen Weaver, and Mark Frydenberg my directions were vastly better than then would otherwise have been and I thank them.

    The last widely read post was on the need to teach security to students. That is a drum I beat pretty regularly and it always seems to get some attention.  There were a number of great comments on that post as well.

    Were there any posts you found particularly useful? Or do you have suggestions for things I should write about, search for more resources about or anything else you want to suggest as ways I can make this blog more useful please either leave a comment or send me an email at AlfredTh (at) Microsoft.com. Thanks!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    How is a Classroom Like a Pizza Place

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    I grew up in New York (Brooklyn actually) and like many New Yorkers I have a distinct bias toward New York pizzas. So a blog post by Leigh Ann Sudol that started off with “So from a link by Coby Loup over at the Fordham Foundation on their new blog Flypaper here’s an article about why NYC pizza is better than anywhere else.” got my attention. The rest of the post as pretty insightful. Not surprising as Leigh Ann is one really smart person whose mind is always running faster than most people (especially me) can keep up with.

    So what does she write about? Replication. In more words, what is it that makes teachers in general and CS teachers in particular successful and how can we replicate that to help other teachers.

    I get to visit a lot of great teachers in their classrooms. These are teachers whose students are doing just amazing things – things that people don’t realize high school students are even capable of doing. When I return and talk to other people the first question if get is “can we replicate that with other teachers?” And the honest answer all too often is “probably not.”

    So much of the success the best teachers have is a complicated mix of things many of which are not easy to replicate. Most people think the top item is huge technical skills and knowledge. But that is not always the case. Some of the best teachers have students who go far beyond them in some number of specific areas.

    I think the most important thing a successful teacher does, and Leigh Ann talks about this, is a culture for success. The best teachers are not afraid to admit lack of knowledge, of changing projects or even creating them on the spot as a reaction to events in class, and the create an environment where students feel comfortable during and after class.

    Leigh Ann asksHow do we help fledgling or failing computer science programs grow?” so if you have some suggestions drop over to her blog and leave them there. Me? I think the way to do it is mentorship.

    When I first started teaching I was working with another HS CS teacher. She was a great teacher and her students loved her even though she worked them very hard. She created an environment that worked. I was able to merge into it, learn it, and make it my own in many ways. Later she left and I hired a new teacher. He and I worked together for a couple of years and together we built on the existing foundation. Frankly I think in many ways he has become a better teacher than I was. But part of that was having a good culture to start with.

    Of course for many schools there is one computer teacher and no one to help them learn or create a culture when they arrive. It’s hard to figure out what was there before one came or how to move things in the direction they want it to go. It’s tough. I do think that we need more opportunities for computer science teachers to share ideas and connect with each other. Conferences like NECC and TCEA help some. Education events like the CS & IT Symposium are great as well. So are summer workshops. But far too many people do not have the money or the motivation to attend these. Often they just don’t know what they are missing. Perhaps more online activities (blogs, Twitter, virtual conferences) and the Computer Science Teachers Association can help over time. But we have a way to go.

    One thing that is is easy to forget about is a supportive tech support and supportive administration. Though honestly often an administration that is happy with benign neglect is often a start in the right direction. :-)

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